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Moon, Mars, Venus do a celestial dance Tuesday as space station zips past

In this Dec. 1, 2008, photo, the moon is near Venus and Jupiter during a spectacular display of celestial rare phenomenon called a planetary occultation, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
In this Dec. 1, 2008, photo, the moon is near Venus and Jupiter during a spectacular display of celestial rare phenomenon called a planetary occultation, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Associated Press

Skies are clear across Northwest Washington, just in time for one of nature’s celestial dances as the planets Venus and Mars flank the waxing crescent moon Tuesday night, an astronomical event called a conjunction.

It all happens around sunset at 5:07 p.m. Tuesday and just afterward, according to Stardate.org. Venus is the brightest “star” now in the early evening sky, and Mars appears as a reddish star, above and to its left. A conjunction is when objects appear close together as viewed from Earth, even though they’re actually millions of miles apart in space.

No telescope is required, as they’re all visible with the naked eye.

Add to the fun and watch a four-minute pass of the International Space Station at 6:41 p.m. Tuesday. The ISS will be visible at 49 degrees above the southwest horizon, a bright white dot moving east and into the Earth’s shadow by 6:45 p.m., according to the smartphone app ISS Spotter.

“A conjunction is when you have the apparent visibility of multiple things in one particular area of the nighttime sky,” astronomer Derek Keif told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Keif, who works at the HR MacMillian Space Centre in Vancouver, B.C., told the CBC that the two planets and the moon will form a triangle in the sky. He said they’ll be as close as the width of a fist on an extended arm.

“(It’s) literally a dance because all of these components are moving at different speeds — our moon moves all the way around the Earth once every 29.5 days,” Kief told the CBC.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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